A lot of my flyfishing knowledge could be described as hard-won, in that it’s taken a lot of research, repetition or both, to establish to my satisfaction that a certain thing works – or doesn’t. It’s worth the effort though. There’s a sense of relief in settling that, say, dry flies with drag won’t get eaten, or trout feeding on baitfish will pick off the crippled ahead of the speedy, or that big flies will be ignored if there’s enough little food to keep the fish preoccupied. Sure, there are always the outliers: fish behaving atypically at the ends of the bell curve (a lesson in itself), but as in most aspects of life, you learn to play the percentages. I’m not going to fish a Woolly Bugger to midge feeders, even though one in a hundred will probably eat it.
Having gone to all that trouble to work out what’s true, if an alternate view is put forward, I’m going to take some persuading. It’s not so much a pride thing where I’m unwilling to be proved wrong (or at least, not entirely right); it’s more a reluctance to let a comfortable belief slip from my grasp.
One of my long-held views has been the advantages of fishing ‘big’ rods for trout. I grew up using 9ft 7 weight outfits. Whether on step-across creeks or giant, windswept lakes, that’s all I used. I was vaguely aware there were lighter, shorter options, but I never felt any disadvantage fishing with what would nowadays be considered an outsized trout rod, so I didn’t bother investigating the alternatives. Some of my mates even fished 8 weights as trout allrounders, and I recall certain texts recommending such outfits for starting out!
So don’t take this personally, but for most of my angling life, I’ve regarded ‘twigs’ as little more than a gimmick.
There was no blinding revelation which started my shift towards somewhat lighter outfits, although as line weights came down, I was simultaneously converted to using longer rods. More reach, better mending, longer hang times… Longer casts when needed as well. Even on small streams, I liked the extra length for reaching over obstructions to flick or dap the fly.
For several years now, my go-to rods have been a 9’6” 5 weight for streams, and 9’6” 6 weight for lakes. At some point, I acquired an 8’ 3 weight, thinking that perhaps I should dip my toe in the twiggy end of flyfishing. However, over a couple of short sessions, the little rod just felt… inadequate.
That rod sat on my study wall literally gathering dust, until a recent trip with JD to the north-east Victorian streams. Maybe it was something I’d read, or a conversation with younger flyfishing mates, or perhaps it was simply impulse. Anyway, I decided to bring the 3 weight.
First stop was a genuine mountain creek, hurrying down from the tall forests, over and around boulders and the odd flood-jammed log. It was chaotic water with very little need to cast any distance; not a small stream in terms of flow, yet quite overgrown. Over the years, I’d fished this creek successfully many times with the 5 weight, although I recalled the odd testing moment when nine and a half feet seemed like a lot of rod in amongst all the undergrowth. Perhaps this was just the place to give the 3 weight a second chance.
Unlike the 3 weight’s earlier outings, this time I immediately appreciated it. I hit the creek in one of its many congested spots, and since my last visit, floods had added to the lack of room by undermining trees which now drooped over the water at awkward angles; annoyingly, these often leaned across the rare spots where pools formed amongst the whitewater. There were even more logs and branches actually in the water or diagonal to the current. There wasn’t a lot of room, and it was undeniably easier to wield a rod 18 inches shorter than the 5 weight.
I soon got into the swing of things, so to speak, with the 8 footer. While it didn’t have the reach of my usual stream rod, it was fun to flick casts in vegetation tunnels which simply wouldn’t have accommodated lateral or horizontal movement with a nine and a half foot rod. The little stick did feel ridiculously light and flimsy compared to what I was used to, but I was only casting a Royal Wulff.
Within half an hour, I’d landed a couple of regulation 11 inch fish, then a comparative monster of about 14 inches. They all felt unusually powerful through the small rod, especially the last one. The trout were about, and the sticky warmth had them looking up for dries. It was turning into a good day.
The next pool was a ripper, twice as big as JD‘s Hilux and at least a metre deep. However, the first few drifts at the tail end went undisturbed – weird for such a nice bit of water.
After methodically covering this lower third, I put the Wulff just upstream of a boulder which barely broke the bubble-line in the middle of the pool. At that point, the largest trout I’d ever seen in the creek quietly rose up in front of the boulder and ate the fly.
Well, the next few minutes would have been almost comical were it not for what was at stake! Unused to controlling a big trout with a noodle, the fish seemed able to do whatever it wanted. I tried to steer it away from under the boulder, but it dived beneath it anyway. When I somehow pulled the big brown back out, I thought to myself that I’d better keep it in the pool and away from the raging whitewater below. So of course the fish headed straight down into the rapids, with me powerless to do anything about it.
Anyway, without describing every blow, to a mixture of laughter and applause from JD, I eventually landed the trout. It was easily the best fish I’ve caught there – I hadn’t even seen such a specimen in years of fishing the creek. It might be a pretty stream, but I would have doubted it had the food and cover to sustain a trout like that. It’s an icebox early and late season, and it can be almost one huge torrent for much of spring. To me, exceptional trout like this are a real gift. There are plenty of fish I’ve caught this season which were two or even three times larger, but this brown is one I’ll remember long after those other trout are lost in a blur of dates and times.
Despite feeling helpless playing the creek trophy, I did in fact land it. And as an interesting aside, I didn’t drop or lose a hooked fish on the 3 weight all trip. Maybe the disconcerting softness of the little rod has an upside?
So, am I a twig convert? That’s probably an exaggeration. However, after decades of scepticism, I can at least see that little rods may, at times, have real fish-catching value. Put it this way, the 3 weight remains set up, and I’m guessing I won’t have to wash years of dust off it before its next use.